Delhi government declares public health emergency: Here’s how air pollution affects your health

Delhi's air quality index (AQI) reportedly broke records this year with a level of 506 - a good AQI is between zero and 50.

Myupchar November 01, 2019 15:43:06 IST
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Delhi government declares public health emergency: Here’s how air pollution affects your health
  • Delhi's air quality index (AQI) reportedly broke records this year with a level of 506 - a good AQI is between zero and 50

  • According to the annual report by Air Quality Life Index, if India were to meet WHO standards for particulate matter, the life expectancy of Indians would increase by 4.3 years on average

  • According to the WHO, air pollution has a negative impact on the brain development of children

Do you notice a constant cloud cover and ever-persistent smog as you drive home these days? Do you often find that you are short of breath and your eyes feel itchy, even if you step out on to your balcony briefly? Blame it all on air pollution.

Delhi's air quality index (AQI) reportedly broke records this year with a level of 506 - a good AQI is between zero and 50. Though the blame for this yearly pollution is usually put on stubble burning, the Central Pollution Control Board has said that local factors like garbage burning, traffic and road dust are equally responsible for the Capital's current condition.

Healthcare practitioners around the Capital are worried about the effects of such pollution on public health, especially on children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Delhi government declares public health emergency Heres how air pollution affects your health

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

Explaining the possible effects of pollution on the body, Dr Ayush Pandey, a healthcare practitioner associated with myUpchar, said: “Polluted air contains tiny particles that can easily enter into body tissues, damaging not only lungs but also the heart and brain. This can cause anything from hypertension to stroke… Those who already have a chronic disease — like heart disease — and infants who don’t yet have a strong immune system are even more susceptible.”

According to the annual report by Air Quality Life Index, if India were to meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards for particulate matter, the life expectancy of Indians would increase by 4.3 years on average.

Here is how pollution affects all your body systems:

Airways

Airways and lungs are the first to be affected by air pollution. As you breathe in the polluted air, the tiny particles and other chemical irritants that slowly damage the lungs lead to respiratory infections and conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD patients tend to get a sore throat, cough and breathing difficulties. If left untreated, COPD can progress to pneumonia and other lung infections, which may prove to be life-threatening.

Additionally, irritants from the air aggravate the symptoms of asthma. They can also cause asthma in children by damaging their airways.

Also Read: 17 terrible ways air pollution can affect your health

Circulatory system

Once they escape your lungs, pollutants from the air enter your bloodstream and start affecting your circulatory system and heart. Only fine particles (less than 10 micrometres) can pass through to the blood vessels. Just like the lungs and airways, these particles stick to and irritate the blood vessel walls, leading to inflammation. The swollen blood vessels then restrict the flow of blood through the body, increasing the blood pressure. The inflammation also increases plaque (cholesterol) deposition in arteries, further narrowing the passage or blocking them completely. A block in one of the coronary arteries (arteries of the heart) leads to heart damage or failure.

Brain

As pollutants irritate and inflame the blood vessels in the brain, they can lead to blood clotting and strokes. A 2018 study showed that air pollution accounts for about 30% of all the stroke cases in the world.

One of the major effects of pollution is seen in the form of impaired brain function in the elderly. Research shows that chemicals like nitrogen and PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres) from polluted air can cross over from the bloodstream into the brain tissue and negatively affect the brain. This can manifest in the form of dementia, memory and cognitive decline or even Alzheimer’s.

According to the WHO, air pollution has a negative impact on the brain development of children. In some cases, it may reduce their cognitive ability or delay their motor development. Also, children tend to breath more rapidly and are closer to the ground — due to their height — which just makes the effects more severe for them.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Asthma: Symptoms, Stages, Prevention, Treatment.

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